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ROCKWIRED INTERVIEWS LISA HILTON

WHO LOVES THE SUN?

LISA HILTON TALKS TO ROCKWIRED
ABOUT HER CD 'SUNNY DAY THEORY'
HER WORK WITH THE VISUALLY IMPAIRED
AND LETTING PEOPLE KNOW THERE IS ROOM FOR ALL MUSIC

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INTERVIEWED BY BRIAN LUSH
Jazz pianist LISA HILTON is on the verge of releasing her latest studio album SUNNY DAY THEORY (September 16, 2008 by RUBY SLIPPER PRODUCTIONS/KOCH DISTRIBUTION) and is anxious to see how this labor of love will be received. "I'm just now starting to get excited because first of all, the creative work happened way ahead of time and then we were going to do a January release, but then when we listened to the music on the CD we thought that 'This music sounds like right now!'" says HILTON. "Basically, we put the album together very quickly. I was in the studio on June 2nd and finished the music around the first of July and then we finished all of the album production just a few days ago. The album has come along pretty quickly and I just haven't had time, but just a little bit this week, I'm starting to get a bit excited hoping that people like it."

SUNNY DAY THEORY highlights HILTON's dexterity on the piano with inspired originals (HEATWAVE and AFTER THE FIRE) and surprising takes on familiar compositions such as HOAGY CARMICHAEL's 'SKYLARK' and JONI MITCHELL's 'LADIES OF THE CANYON'. Backed by ace musicianship from the likes of LEWIS NASH (drums), LARRY GRENADIER (bass), and BRICE WINSTON (tenor sax), SUNNY DAY THEORY is an engaging listen where HILTON's artistry rings loud and true.

ROCKWIRED spoke with LISA HILTON over the phone. Here is how it went.
 
SUNNY DAY THEORY is a great CD!
Oh thank you! You are one of the first. I only think that a couple of people in the industry have heard it so you are in the leading edge there.

It's good CD to to listen to first thing tin the morning.
That's great! I like to listen to it first thing in the morning.

I kind of think you had that in mind when you were putting it together.
Well you now, We've played it at a friends house  after dinner and it worked for that too. You want to listen to an album in different kinds of settings. I think it could be listened to in the evening too.

I'll give it a try.
Yeah. Put it on at dinner or something.

The CD comes out on September 16, 2008. Now that it's almost out there for people to hear, whats all going through your head?
Well it's pretty busy. I'm just now starting to get excited because first of all, the creative work happened way ahead of time and then we were going to do a January release but then when we listened to the music on the CD we thought that 'This music sounds like right now!' Basically, we put the album together very quickly. I was in the studio on June 2nd and finished the music around the first of July and then we finished all of the album production just a few days ago. The album has come along pretty quickly and I just haven't had time, but just a little bit this week, I'm starting to get a bit excited, hoping that people like it. It sounds like a summer release to me.

More of an Indian Summer release.
Yeah. Especially in Southern California. Thats when it starts to get hot. I think the music should go well for the next few months, so we'll see. It goes out to radio next week.

Just from what I've read, it seems like a lot of personal crisis sort of led to the creation of this record. Would you care to talk about that?
Yes and no. I don't want to say that my life is any harder or easier. I just think that we need to acknowledge that we all have challenges and I happened to have a few challenges that went back to back there all within a six month time period. I just think that when you go through times like that, you've gotta kind of come up with something that will get you through those times. That's life. It's not perfect. There are difficult times and for me, SUNNY DAY THEORY was about acknowledging the fact that its a bad time, a bad day, a bad week, whatever it is. What can you do about it? You can't change that day but you can hope that tomorrow will be a better day and  finding whats good about today and trying to appreciate that. People are always saying 'be positive!' and 'have a positive attitude', but sometimes, it's not a good day. You can't fake that. It's real, but you can try to look for that glimmer of light. Thats what SUNNY DAY THEORY is about. it's not about faking it and looking on the bright side of things. It's about appreciating and cherishing the good stuff that is out there that you can appreciate no matter what. On the other hand, it is a very positive album and it can boost your mood too and I think music can do that.

You've got an interesting cast of musicians with you on this recording. Did you select them specifically for this project or had you worked with them in the past?
On each project, I think about the music and think about the players and think about who I'd like to work with. I worked with LEWIS on my last album and I just think that he is one of the greatest drummers in the world and of course he is always on the top few on the DOWNBEAT polls. He's consistently viewed as one of the best, and  he's also one of the busiest drummers. He's a thrill to work with and I really like him as a person. The last time I worked with CHRISTIAN MCBRIDE, an awesome bass player,and this time, I was looking for more of West coast sound and I had a hard time deciding who I wanted to use. Then I asked myself 'who do I most admire and most respect?' and LARRY's name came up and luckily, he wanted to work with me and I had a wonderful time. I love his work. Now BRICE, I had seen him work with TERRENCE BLANCHARD. I actually saw him perform at CATALINA BAR AND GRILL and was very impressed. I look for a certain sound that people have. I wasn't so familiar with his work. He hasn't been around quite as long but he's got this terrific sound and I thought it worked well for the album. And of course I've got he best engineer in the world, AL SCHMITT. This is the fourth time that I've worked with him. So it sounds pretty good!

What drew you to music in the beginning? What made you decide that piano was the way to go?
I think that whenever you hear stories about musicians, they all sound similar in regard to their early childhood. It's almost like a fixation on an instrument. I was around five or so and some of my friends were taking piano lessons and so I asked mom and she said "no, you won't practice!" I begged her to get a piano, but she was thinking about getting an organ and I was like 'no, don't get an organ, get a piano!' So, from an early age I was just drawn to the piano and I actually taught myself to play with this colored keyboard guide that you put on the keys so you could play things like 'Jack and Jill went up the hill'. I wanted to play so much but I wasn't allowed to take lessons because I 'wasn't going to practice'. I had to wait until I was eight. By the time I was eight,I started lessons and I took off very quickly and of course I was practicing! The only reason my mom was against it was because my two older sisters never practiced. I was the third child. It wasn't until very recently that I learned that my great uncle, at a very young age had played for the Dutch Queen a couple of times. So I suppose there is something in my genes from my great uncle WILLEM BLOEMENDAAL.

Obviously there was this blues and jazz sound that struck a chord with you the most.
Growing up, I don't think I really heard much blues and jazz. I didn't hear that until I was older and it really grabbed me. That was how I was introduced to jazz. Even as a child when I was playing classical music a lot of times when you play a sonatina, this middle movement will be in a minor key and those were the parts of the music that I would always love and the minor is the most closely related to the blues. Even though as child I had never heard the blues, I was drawn to that minor sound. When I studied Eastern European composers, , they had these intricate rhythms and that was kind of a predecessor to jazz. So when I found jazz and blues music, I felt like I was at home. It was when I was a teenager.

Did Classical training ever discourage this love of blues and jazz?
I think most of the great jazz musicians have classical backgrounds. MILES DAVIS went to JULLIARD. With that being said, I think that the way they train Classical music is kind of the opposite of what you need to do in jazz and thats why I left Classical music. I just walked out. I was like 'I just can't do this!' There are so many rules and you are required to play the music the exact same way that someone who has been dead for two hundred years would have played it. Jazz on the other hand is about playing in the moment and adding who you are into the equation. You want your own particular sound your own personality and spirit to come out in the music. It's the opposite approach. Classical music has given me a foundation that I'm glad that I have.

You are one of the very few people that is a non-singing musician. Is it harder to get the attention because of that?
I thinks so. Everybody asks me if I sing and I can't believe that people ask that question. I compose, I produce, I play and I even dance a little bit, and I think thats enough. In the world, there is a huge amount of instrumental music and I believe that people enjoy instrumental music. I think people we want all kinds of music. Sure, I want to listen to vocalists but I also like instrumental music as well. Instrumental music for me is more like contemporary painting where if you see a non-objective piece of art, you bring your own feelings into it. When you look at it as opposed to seeing a picture of a barn. When you listen to a song with lyrics, the lyrics tell you what the song is about, but with instrumental music, different things are allowed to go on.  For instance, my fans will say 'Oh that song reminds me of camping out in a tent in Illinois when I was growing up!' or something like that. It allows you to bring who you are to the music. There's room for everything.

Explain to me the creative process. How does a song go from something you might hear in your head to something that someone is going to hear over the speakers.
I love the composing part. To me it feels like starting a relationship. You kind of put down the fragments of the composition. It's kind of like a first date. You're checking it out and seeing if there is something there thats interesting and you play it over and over on successive days and its either going to turn into something interesting or it;s not. Then when you have the tune rounded it out then its more work. Then you are thinking what is the best way to deliver this particular melody or this particular tune and where it needs to go. You can spend a  lot of time on details like that and that is where the work comes in. By the time you go into the studio, you start thinking of what kind of instrumentation will work best. That's how it works. I kind of think of my songs as my children.

If you think of your songs as your children, you're probably not going to like my next question. Of the original compositions on SUNNY DAY THEORY, are there any tracks that sort of stand out for you at the moment and if so why?
I like them all for different reasons. I like 'HEATWAVE' because it puts me in a good mood. And I like 'MELT DOWN' because I like to dance to that one, to tell you the truth and its rhythmically interesting. SO BLUE I think is pretty honest and 'AFTER THE FIRE', to me, captures the feeling that I had after the Malibu fires. Those are my favorites, but 'HEATWAVE' is song where you can't go wrong.

Yeah, it's a great opener. You've also picked four interesting covers to go on this CD.
Covers are the hardest thing to do.

Why is that?
For me, as a composer, to play somebody else's music, is like wearing somebody else's clothes. Even if they are great clothes, when you put them on, they don't exactly feel like you. I go through a lot of songs before I find covers that will work for each album. SKYLARK by HOAGY CARMICHAEL is a beautiful melody but, somebody else wrote that. It's from their heart. It's from their spirit. I can sit down and write a song in thirteen minutes, but it will take me months to try to cover another artist's song. I guess I'mmeant to be a composer aren't I?

Absolutely. Why those four songs for this album?
As a rule of thumb, I always try doing something old, something new, something borrowed, and some blues. For something old, I usually go back to GERSHWIN or in this case, HOAGY CARMICHAEL who I think has the most terrific sense of harmony. the epitome of a great song is one that was written decades ago and still sounds good today. I always like to reach back into that great American Standard songbook era when so much great music was being made. I think that JONI MITCHELL is a great composer but I think that she is more of a lyricist. An amazing lyricist. For me, the challenge was taking lyrics and re-creating the meaning instrumentally. I hope I did it. I hope she's pleased when she hears it. I decided at the very last minute to add, WHERE HAVE ALL THE FLOWERS GONE?. I was telling a teenager about how the songs from the sixties, for the first time, tried to influence what was going on around the world. If you look back to the thirties and forties, most of those songs were romantic. But when we came into the folk era, that was where we started getting lyrics that were meaningful for the first time. So all of our lyrics in rock music are influenced by how that started in the sixties. WHERE HAVE ALL THE FLOWERS GONE is an example of a very simple melody and very simple words having meaning. As I was telling this teenager about it, I was getting choked up just remembering this song. From there I  decided to record it, although I wasn't quite sure that a jazz musician should be doing a folk song. MERCY, MERCY, MERCY is considered one of the greatest jazz tracks of all time. That track was written by my friend JOE ZAWINUL. The song is dedicated to him. He passed away on September 11th of last year and hopefully my interpretation of his song will introduce more people to a great composer.

You support a lot of music education programs for children and especially those who are blind or visually impaired. What compels you to do this kind of work?
My interest is music and if I was to ask myself how music can most help somebody else or who could most enjoy  some kind of help through music, then, I would think of children and teens. I myself got lost musically for a while and I really hope that it won't happen to anyone else. I always want to reach out and express the joy of music. When I think of who would be most appreciative, then I think of children that would be blind or visually impaired. For me, I would feel that music would be my whole world if I had no eyesight. I just feel a closeness to those kids and teens that have that kind of handicap. Most of those kids tend to have more than one handicap. Originally, I didn't know that when I started doing this work ten or twelve years ago. Maybe for a few hours or a day or so that I could bring a little music into their lives or little hope. I enjoy doing it.

What would you like a person to come away with after they've heard this CD?
Oh you saved the hard one for last. What I care to express with this project is that there is room for all kinds of music. As much as I love alternative or pop, to hear beautifully played acoustic music, I think touches us in a way that other music can't and I think there should be a place for that in our lives. Hopefully this album will show people that it can be fun, thoughtful and can make you dance and put you in a good mood.